3D Hunting: Trophy Whitetail 2005, developed by MachineWorks Northwest and published by SkyZone Entertainment, is the latest claimant to the mobile sport-hunting throne that has been occupied by Sorrent's Deer Hunter since last year. In an effort to lure mobile sportsmen away from their present choice, the two companies have loaded Trophy Whitetail with a lot of technically sophisticated eye candy, including a special 3D landscape engine and polygonal deer. When it comes to the hunting simulation itself, though, Trophy Whitetail has a number of ragged edges that may throw enthusiasts off the trail.
3D Hunting: Trophy Whitetail is so named for a reason. The game's three hunting grounds--a sunny Oregon grove, Illinois scrubland, and a blizzard-hit area called Crowsnest Pass--have been rendered in full, if rudimentary, 3D. You move up hills and into valleys to track your prey from a first-person vantage point. This mechanic works smoothly on our test LG VX7000; the frame rate holds steady when moving and turning, and the draw distance, while noticeably short, is at least as good as other 3D mobile games and encompasses the entirety of the hunting area. You move at a deliberate, oddly flat pace, but this makes sense, since you're trying to bag extremely skittish animals. The deer themselves only come in a few varieties, but they're marvelous to look at, especially after they've been spooked and are galloping across the screen. The sprite-based foliage is something of a weak point. It's strangely sparse, so the environments seem more tech-demo-esque than they should, and you can walk right through everything except for a few 3D-rendered boulders. The game's trees do cut down your visibility in a realistic manner, but they don't look particularly natural. The sound in the game isn't bad. There's a quiet blues tune at the opening screen and some nice ambient effects in the field. They don't vary by environment, however--you'll still hear the same chirping birds in the middle of a winter snowstorm, for instance.
There are three basic ways to play 3D Hunting: Trophy Whitetail. Simulation mode places you in the hunting ground of your choice with a single deer, which you have to track down and kill. Tree-stand mode parks you on a platform halfway up a tree. You have a nice view, but you can only rotate in a circle--you can't come down from the tree and start walking around. Finally, instant-action mode lets you take potshots at four deer as they run around the environment, in an effort to bring them down as fast and as humanely as possible. Obviously, the emphasis here is more on marksmanship and quick reflexes than it is on tracking skills. In addition to the game type and the map, you can choose from three different weapons--lever-action and pump-action rifles, as well as a modern 6mm sport firearm. Each weapon holds a different amount of ammo, makes a different report when shot, and appears to have slightly different ranges and damage effects. However, since you can reload an infinite number of times at the touch of a button, the differences between the guns don't seem very significant.
3D Hunting: Trophy Whitetail also adds a few refinements to the basic hunting-game model, but they haven't been very well thought out. For example, it's important to keep upwind of your prey lest they scent you before you make your move. This makes sense, but the fact that you can continuously reapply scent blocker ad nauseam really doesn't--it just makes you habitually spray the blocker every so often. If you don't, no big deal...it's not as if the deer are particularly adept at scenting you in the first place, anyway. At the same time, your deer call--which produces an irritatingly high-pitched cricket noise--causes a deer to make a beeline toward you for a set period of time. Then, like clockwork, it'll either stop dead or start moving again in a completely random manner. This makes the tree-stand game seem especially silly. All you need to do is blow your special whistle four or five times while constantly toggling the map overlay on and off (it marks the position of the deer with a red X, but only updates when toggled), capping the prey when it blunders into range.
In fact, you'll find yourself habitually jamming on the map button in simulation mode, "tracking" the single deer around until you can get off a clear shot. The environments are large enough that you'll rarely encounter the deer on your own initiative; the winter level proves this by making you "forget" your map, the absence of which serves as the game's best excuse for a harder difficulty level. Indeed, the map strategy is made official after you earn seven trophy points in simulation or tree stand and buy the most expensive power-up, which is the heat scope; this turns the red X into a red box that moves in real time on your map overlay. With the heat scope, you can follow your single deer around the map and keep shooting at it until it dies, at which point you have to quit out of the map and choose a new game from the menu. Curiously, the game won't do it for you.
Once you earn this cheat, you're no longer much of a hunter in the traditional sense, and there's nothing else left to do. Of the three other power-ups, only the scope is worth getting, because it lets you hit deer cleanly from a greater distance. If you don't hit a deer cleanly, it'll suffer a wound, run off, and die a short time later. This matters only in instant-action mode, which will castigate you for letting a deer suffer before it dies. This seems a strange--and pointless--distinction to make. Still, shooting with a scope is actually fun and improves the gameplay experience. The same cannot be said of the special boots and camo jacket, which are superfluous. The boots double your speed, but this will only get you back to the start menu faster; the camo jacket lets you get closer to a deer without its noticing you visually, but there's no reason to do so.
After you've bought the power-ups and tried every permutation of level, scenario, and weapon--which will take most players two hours maximum, probably less--the only reason to keep playing 3D Hunting: Trophy Whitetail is to add to your trophy case. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of deer models to collect, and there's no way to rate your accomplishments against others online, so this isn't compelling for long. This hunting game has a nice presentation, and its shooting mechanics are solid, but it suffers from a sore lack of depth. There's a lot of potential here, but until it's utilized in a more robust fashion, Deer Hunter is still going to bring home the trophy.